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A federal judge has resolved an issue raised by defense attorneys for the killer sentenced to death earlier this month by a federal jury in Boston.
The judge allowed prosecutors and lawyers for Gary Lee Sampson to view a letter that a juror tried to include with the sentencing verdicts and decided that the letter had no impact on the verdicts.
The forewoman, who discovered the letter between pages of the verdict form she was asked to send to the judge, gives her account of finding the mysterious letter and deciding what to do about it.
A Furtive, Folded Letter Appears
It was near noon on Monday, Jan. 9. The jury had reached its verdicts. The jurors had signed their names to the 30-page verdict form, and the forewoman, Tara Delmonico, was preparing to seal the envelope to bring to the courtroom.
Delmonico, who said her managerial focus borders on the compulsive, was making sure the "t's" were crossed and the “i's” were dotted.
"About halfway through, there was a folded piece of paper. It looked like there were two pieces of paper stapled together," she explained. "It was in the middle of the jury form."
Hello! It was a typed, folded document that didn’t belong. "What’s this?" Delmonico asked. No answer.
"Then I said, 'No, I really need to know what this is.' That’s when I got nervous, is when no one claimed it, and everyone got quiet," Delmonico said.
It wasn’t enough that the jurors had spent three months of their lives immersed in horribly graphic evidence and testimony, followed up by sobering deliberations about whether they should condemn a man to execution.
Now, with this letter came an unexpected dilemma for the band of citizen soldiers in the jury room.
'Didn't Want To Touch It'
"Own up to it," one of the jurors demanded of the unknown letter writer.
And one of them did. He said he had written something for the judge.
"Initially, there was some concern, like, 'OK, what do we do with this? Do we do nothing with this?' " Delmonico explained.
The letter, whatever it said — and even unread from a juror who had voted and signed the verdict forms — might wreck all their work, Delmonico feared.
One suggestion was to read it, to find out what it was. “No, don’t do that,” Delmonico recalled the rejoinder from a couple of jurors.
"None of us looked at it. None of us wanted to look at it," she said. "None of us wanted to know what was in that letter. Because in that instance we felt like if we knew it, then it was ours. We didn’t want to own it. We didn’t want to touch it. It was like, 'Oh my God, why is that here? Why is this happening right now in this moment?' ”
Why didn't the juror send the same message to the judge with a stamp on it? Why didn't he take the opportunity to speak to the judge in person? No one knew, said Delmonico.
And what mattered now was for the seven men and five women — including the juror who wrote the letter — to reach the next verdict: what to do.
"Something not good happened, and the person that was involved in that happening was part of the 'OK, now what do we do about it?' process," Delmonico explained.
Someone suggested they should maybe just take the letter out and forget it ever happened. But, Delmonico said jurors responded saying they could not do that.
"There was a discussion, and we all agreed that it needed to be brought to the court’s attention that this had happened," Delmonico explained. "But it was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have felt right not saying anything, and that’s what we all agreed on."
They fashioned a question for the judge, which was really a statement of what had happened. The court and the attorneys for both sides were stunned. Waiting in the jury room, the jurors were on pins and needles.
When the judge responded that the jury speaks through its verdict form and that if jurors were not being treated as equals during deliberations he should be informed.
"We went back in. We reconfirmed with all of us that, OK, prior to this thing happening, that what we had discussed and agreed upon was still the case, and we were done," she said.
After they delivered the verdict, every juror was polled in court. And each agreed with the verdicts that had been delivered. Not one of them raised an issue about the jury’s deliberations.
"... It was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have felt right not saying anything, and that’s what we all agreed on."Tara Delmonico
Now that Sampson has been sentenced to death, the defense speculates that the letter might indicate that a juror was coerced into a verdict. But that would appear to be highly unlikely.
Since the juror’s secret letter to the judge was type-written, he had to have typed it before coming to court on the Monday the jury reached its verdicts. But Monday was the first time the jury voted on the verdicts, according to the forewoman. So how could a juror complain about being coerced when a vote had not yet been taken?
Delmonico said the juror said his letter asked the judge about whether carjacking charge should merit capital punishment. To which one juror replied, "Dude, they told us those were death penalty charges back at jury selection."
In any event, Delmonico said, the jurors have done their duty.
"We just wanted to be thorough and honest and make sure we were doing it right," she said. "We’re not professional jurors. We don’t go in there knowing what to do. But I really think that we worked as a group."
On Friday afternoon, the judge decided on his own motion to open the sealed letter. After reading it, he announced that he had determined there was no need to investigate further. And he sent the letter to lawyers for both sides.
It was the judicial version of Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live: “Never mind.”
This segment aired on January 23, 2017.
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